Another Interlude at the Bama Conference: Charlie Brown Teaches Poet Lessons.

A second Open Letter to my friend the poet, Gary B. Fitzgerald, who gets so upset when his poems attract Dislike votes on Harriet,

or even when an admirer gives him too much attention!

Charlie Brown_0001


Dear Gary,
If you want to know how your poems make the Harriet posters feel, or at least that portion of the Harriet posters who feel compelled to vote ‘Dislike’ for every poem you post, look at Charlie Brown. For Charlie Brown, of course, is a poet, and you can tell that by how strongly he feels about that little red-haired girl. Indeed, that’s the first requirement, to have strong feelings, and the second is to have the courage of your convictions and, of course, get those convictions into words. You have to say what you mean, in other words, and say it loud and clear — even if it means your commitment knocks the little red-haired girl right out of her desk and onto the floor!

Because, of course, that’s the curse of being a poet as well, that if you say it too loud and clear the whole world will laugh and point — which is why most true poets never quite manage to become adults.

And would this set-back discourage Charlie Brown?  You bet it would, and he’d go home and sit down in that big chair and hurt.

And would Charlie Brown not write another poem the next time, and even post it on Harriet again despite all those horrible sophisticates he knows are going to dump Red all over it?

You bet he would — and will.

And would Yvor Winters find himself in the same predicament, or Kenneth Goldsmith, Stephen Burt or Travis Nichols? Never — they’re too smart and know too much, and deal with all poetry affairs circumspectly. They also know the little red haired girl couldn’t care less, and they’re certainly not going to risk their reputations by foolishly writing a poem for her. Because like her they’re cynics, which makes them always safe — and, of course, superficial poets.



  1. thomasbrady said,

    October 23, 2009 at 5:03 pm

    Gary doesn’t like it when Christopher edits his poems. When Christopher did so again, recently, I had a “DOH!” moment.

    IF someone repairs our pantaloons, we’re grateful.

    If someone repairs our poem, we’re irate.

    To mend a garment is to darn it.

    To mend a poem is to damn it.

    This is the problem. We don’t wear our egos on our sleeves—we wear them on our poems.

    A long time ago, when William Carlos Williams was young and handsome, and regularly cheating on his wife, the moderns (as they’re called) had an idea:

    Forget the poem, save the poet, the poet’s ego.

    The avant-garde (when they’re feeling frisky, they’re called the avant-garde) hit upon a way to protect egos: if a poem cannot be fixed, if a poem is held together by nothing, if the poem is a mere pile of tatters to begin with, if we don’t understand a poem, it can never be damned.

    If no one cares whether a poem needs mending, darning will disappear, as will damning.

    Egos will be saved.

    The glory of a 30,000 ton battleship is that it can be sunk, while a floaty toy’s glory is that it cannot. The “Paradise Lost” is a battleship. The “Red Wheel Barrow” is a bright, bobbing toy.

    If you think successful apologists for poetry’s avant-garde are insufferable optimists, you’d be right. If you’ve ever listened to someone say a hundred nice things about a poem which no one outside nor inside of bedlam could understand, then you get the idea.

    Gary is old school. He wants you to understand his poem, and through understanding it, appreciate it.

    Gary’s grumpiness is tied to the fact that he CARES that you understand his poem.

    But the avant-garde is not immune to grumpiness, either. They just hide it better.

    Does anyone remember the post on Harriet which referred to a poetry reading as an event which required a curator? John Oliver Simon remarked on this bit of pretence–and the post and all its comments was removed without a word.

  2. garybfitzgerald said,

    October 24, 2009 at 3:45 am


    I haven’t read much poetry lately.
    After all, I have to write it.
    I can’t be unduly influenced
    or misdirected. And damn!
    I’m just now shaking off
    Shelley and Poe,
    Cummings and Frost,
    just now releasing the howl
    and its cost,
    the tyger burning bright
    and the dying of the light.

    But I’ve read all of the dead ones
    and most of those living,
    the famous and neglected.
    I just don’t resonate
    with the new ones.
    They don’t make sense to me.
    I don’t get it!
    Oh, I get the point, all right,
    I just can’t find the poetry.

    Copyright 2009 – Ponds and Lawns, Gary B. Fitzgerald

  3. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 24, 2009 at 4:17 am

    This is wonderful, Gary — but still I’d change the last word to “foetry” and I’d have written a poem that was truly right on the edge — and would become in time on the tip of everybody’s tongue as well.

    Or if you felt “foetry” were too political, contemporary or ephemeral, I’d go for “forestry” — and you know, that’s right off the wall but with a little courage one might even get away with it. I mean, that’s worth tinkering with like Tom does Seamus Heaney’s “pen!”

    Seriously, friend, this is a poem that makes a big difference to my day. Thanks.


  4. thomasbrady said,

    October 24, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    “This is wonderful, Gary — but still I’d change the last word to…”


    I like the way Gary manages to reference so many anthology pieces in that first stanza. Beautiful. That’s the sort of self-consciousness of the Western canon which modern poets are NOT supposed to reveal: this is what they are taught to ignore; it’s like writing a poem on Christmas–you just don’t do something like that in the ‘cool circles’ of modenism and post-modernism; the whole idea is to chip away at the old Western canon edifice by taking little tiny bites out of it, while pretending it doesn’t exist. Write about a red wheel barrow sitting in your backyard; don’t write about Homer, or, if you do so, write about Homer sarcastically, so you diminish what went before. Knock down all that went before: this is the ‘prime directive’ of contemporary poetry. ‘Make it new’ really means ‘make new,’ for if you reference the ‘it’ you are negating the ‘new,’ for Byron will eat the post-modern scribbler in a moment; best for the post-modern scribbler to pretend Byron never existed, or, best to find some embarrassing fact of Byron and perhaps hint at it; I think of that poem published recently in the New Yorker by Galway Kinnell on Shelley, in which Shelley was damned for being an irresponsible wretch–that’s acceptable.

    Gary is good, because he takes the bull by the horns. While other contemporary poets stand around trying to figure out some clandestine way to open the door, Gary walks up and says, ‘Knock, knock. Anybody home?’

    And then Dante, or Keats, or Poe, opens the door.

    Christopher, I think ‘foetry’ is our game. I think we should just let Gary Fitzgerald be Gary Fitzgerald.

    It doesn’t matter if Harvard critic Stephen Burt never acknowledges Fitzgerald’s existence. Gary Fitzgerald will live in anthologies one day, long after Mr. Burt has been forgotten.

  5. cowpattyhammer said,

    October 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

    What does DOH mean?


  6. thomasbrady said,

    October 24, 2009 at 11:25 pm

    Homer Simpson, a cartoon character from ‘The Simpsons’ by Matt Groening, says it to express “I can’t believe it!”

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